November 27, 2020
You know all the narratives by now.
Carson Wentz has regressed since Frank Reich and John DeFilippo left after Super Bowl LII, the former to be the head coach in Indianapolis and the latter for an ill-suited stint in Minnesota as the offensive coordinator which didn't even last a year.
Or maybe the injuries — a torn ACL and LCL in 2017 and a stress fracture in the QB1’s back the next season — have robbed Wentz of at least some of the athleticism that made him a serious MVP candidate a scant four seasons ago.
Perhaps it’s the fog of January’s concussion against Seattle. After all, head injuries can impact everyone differently and Wentz has admitted how scary the situation was after the borderline late hit by Jadeveon Clowney.
You could also turn to the skill-position players, a group which has again underachieved this season.
So let’s dive in and chip away at each thesis.
If you buy that Wentz just isn’t the same without Reich and “Flip,” consider that Wentz's best completion percentage by far was 69.6 in 2018 when he was being stewarded by Mike Groh as the OC and Press Taylor as the quarterbacks coach. The same goes for his 102.2 career-high passer rating which inched past the 101.9 of his oft-cited MVP-like season of 2017.
Wentz's second-best completion percentage was 63.9 in 2019, as was his career-best 4,039 passing yards and second-best 27-7 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
Furthermore, the high-water marks in 2018 were post-ACL/LCL surgery and the next season post-stress fracture in the back, stemming the injury thesis at least somewhat. The caveat there is some concern over a concussion fog dating back to January’s playoff game, something Wentz has begged off discussing in the past and was again evasive about earlier this week.
“I don’t like dwelling on injuries and, frankly, a head injury is not a fun thing to re-live. So I don’t want to dwell on that too much,” Wentz said when asked about coming back from the hit.
Despite others closing the book on the effects of concussions, however, the truth is the science regarding brain injuries remains in its infancy so a connection can’t be casually dismissed.
The inescapable points overall, though, are that Wentz has performed and performed at a high level at times without Reich and DeFilippo and after significant injuries. He’s also performed with subpar skill-position players and in Doug Pederson's now much-maligned offense. There is also no evidence, not even anecdotal, of one diagnosed concussion, even a severe one, derailing a career like Wentz was having.
There is one remaining outlier left: Wentz has really never been asked to perform with a less-than-stellar offensive line.
Therefore, by process of elimination, if you want to at least start to explain the inexplicable in 2020 when it comes to the Eagles’ QB, it almost has to begin up front where the Eagles have been forced to start nine different groups in 10 games, a tortured game of musical chairs overseen by Jeff Stoutland that began way back in June after losing All-Pro right guard Brandon Brooks to another Achilles' injury.
By the summer, it was second-year left tackle and Jason Peters heir Andre Dillard sacrificed to a torn biceps. Those two injuries alone would be enough attrition to derail a lot of teams by itself, but the juggling has remained mind-boggling with All-Pro center Jason Kelce the lone constant in the pivot. And even Kelce had to fight through a hyperextended left elbow in the second half last week that was so limiting his buddy Isaac Seumalo had to buckle up his chin strap.
At left tackle, it's been Peters to Jordan Mailata and back to Peters which doesn't even trace back to August when Dillard was lost and Matt Pryor was thrown into the deep end before Peters agreed to return to LT for a small bump in salary after originally re-signing to fill-in for Brooks at RG.
Got all that?
Good, because we are just getting warmed up.
At left guard, Seumalo went down with a knee injury in Week 2 and didn't return until last Sunday in Cleveland. In between, you had Nate Herbig and then ping-ponged between Sua Opeta and Herbig and back to Opeta over a three-game span. At right guard, you had the Peters dalliance over the summer and Herbig for two games before he moved over to the left side and Pryor took the reins for a bit. There was the Jamon Brown experiment and from there Herbig got another start before Pryor was back from Week 8 to date. Until Opeta, of course, was forced in last week when Pryer slid outside for Lane Johnson.
Head spinning yet?
Now, Herbig, who has been steady while toggling between the two guard positions, is weirdly benched and slotted behind Opeta and undrafted rookie Luke Juriga.
At right tackle, meanwhile, Johnson's ankle, knee, and now shoulder have been the issues with rookie Jack Driscoll starting the opener against the Washington Football Team before Johnson gutted it out for parts of three games. Driscoll had to go in for part of a game until injuring his ankle. The in-and-out for Johnson returned for Week 7 before Mailata was needed to flip sides in Week 8. Since the bye, it's been Johnson as the starter but Pryor has been forced in at times.
The result of all of that has been Wentz under siege on a weekly basis. His sack numbers are bordering on historic, the internal clock is ravaged, he's lost confidence and assumes pressure is there even when it isn't.
Pederson's response is what it always is, to turn back the clock to what worked with Nick Foles. Simplify the offense and turn Wentz into a one-read QB while scheming the early read open.
The problems there are steep, however, starting with receivers who can't get off press coverage and a QB who wants to be more like Peyton Manning than a Sean McVay-like exoskeleton.
When it comes to benching Wentz for a rookie like Jalen Hurts, why would you want to risk the confidence of a developing player with all these issues?
If Das Sound Machine was talking trash to Stoutland it might sound something like this:
"Your O-Line is like a — how do you say that? A heated mess. A mess where heat is applied to it, so what once was a little messy is even messier."
In turn, we've learned two things about Wentz this season.
He's not a Russell Wilson-level player, who you will see again on Monday night and has proven he can overcome shaky offensive line play and still find a way to excel. History, however, does prove Wentz can flash — even with perceived lesser coaching and less-than-inspiring weapons — if things are clicking up front.
The Eagles had a top-10 offensive line and arguably top five from the Super Bowl season through 2019. This year that efficacy has dropped off a cliff.
The fool's gold moving forward is the projected 2021 offensive line of Dillard, Seumalo, Kelce, Brooks, and Johnson staying healthy.
With the age of Kelce and retirement always on the table, along with the injury history of Brooks and Johnson that might be pie-in-the-sky thinking but if the stars do align, that's an Instagram filter for quarterbacks.
John McMullen is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media, the host of “Extending the Play” on AM1490 in South Jersey and also contributes Eagles and NFL coverage for SI.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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